Wednesday, October 31, 2018

C J Sansom – Revelation

Over the last decade Historical Fiction has rivalled Fantasy and Crime for my favourite genre. Bernard Cornwell has been the primary source of this love but Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series has been the standout. C J Samson is fast joining those ranks however. This is the 4th book in his Matthew Shardlark series set in Tudor times, which has been excellent to date.

The Blurb:

It is spring, 1543 and King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife — but this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac who has been placed by the King's council in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released as his parents want, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

Then, when an old friend is horrifically murdered, Shardlake promises his widow — for whom he has long had complicated feelings — to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to connections not only with the boy in Bedlam, but with Archbishop Cranmer and Catherine Parr, and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

As London's Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants, Shardlake, together with his assistant Jack Barak and his friend Guy Malton, follow the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core. Murders which are already bringing about frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession, for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer?

Days to read: 58

Opening line: The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began.

I’ve said it many times before and I never grow tired of saying it. No matter how exciting a book is, no matter how many twists and turns the plot takes, it is always the characters which elevate a novel to greatness. In Matthew Shardlake and his supporting cast, Sansom has created a set of characters which engage the reader and makes you care for them.
Revelation starts a little slowly if I am honest. That is not to say it is not enjoyable, it just takes a little while for the plot to establish itself and its direction. Matthew dallies a little with the Adam, a teenage boy placed in Bedlam for his obsession over praying but at the same time one of his good friends is murder. Neither plot seems to go anyway for a little while before all of a sudden another murder occurs and a connection is made hinting at serial killer.

From this moment the story never looks back and whisks you along in a battle of minds between Matthew and the mysterious killer. I say “whisks” at 623 pages this is a hefty novel but the pace and the enjoyment level of the story means it flies by (yes, I know it took me a long time to read but that is because I now have three kids, a dog and no commute to read on).

Matthew is as righteous as ever, but there is also a steel to him where he is not afraid to speak out against injustice. His authoritative voice when dealing with the guards at Bedlam make it clear he is a respected lawyer that carries some weight to his actions.  The best thing about Matthew is that his main weapon is his brain. Afflicted with a crookback he is severely limited to the more physical exertions of the job. Samson handles this disability expertly, he demonstrates the limitations Matthew has but never describes it as a hindrance.   

Aside from Matthew, the secondary characters all have interesting plots which are intriguing. Jack Barak struggles with his marriage to Tamasin as the pair attempt to overcome the loss of their baby, Barak also struggles with the nature of the killings which is refreshing as normally Matthew’s assistant is unflappable. 

Guy also has a new assistant who Matthew immediately does not trust. This adds a sense of conflict between Matthew and Guy which we haven’t seen before.  Both plots are great and serve to add pressure on Matthew as he is clearly affected by what is going on with both friendships.

It would be remiss not to mention the setting. Tudor London is brought to life complete with all it’s grime, disease and begging. The backdrop of King Henry’s proposal to Catherine Parr along with the conflict with the radicals serve as a fantastic backdrop whilst Bedlam is described as suitably horrific whilst at the same time possessing an element of light and goodness.

The killings are inventive and horrific and although I can’t say I was massively surprised by the reveal of the killer, I can’t say I was 100% confident in my suspicions. Add to that the comic element of Bealknap and the gravitas of Lord Hertford, this is one of the best entries into the series.

My rating: 9.2

1 comment:

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